Saturday, November 17, 2012

On the List

The following article (by yours truly) appears in today's edition of the Malone Telegram...

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Our modern English word, “canonize,” comes from the ancient Greek word, kanon, meaning, “a measuring stick.”  Since the early days of Christianity, a “canon” has been a sort of sacred list—such as the canon of Scripture: the authoritative inventory of books in the Bible by which authentic Christian teaching can be measured.  Likewise, to “canonize” a person is to single him or her out for the official list of saints: the roll call of holy men and women against whom Christians can reliably measure themselves.

I consider myself blessed to have been in Rome just one month ago as the Catholic Church added seven more to its list.

None other than the New York Times (10/14/12) pointed out that this recent canonization brings to 12 the number of Catholic saints we can reasonably claim as American (although most were born elsewhere, and a few died long before the U.S. ever came to be).  And of that even dozen, we can champion seven of them as New Yorkers, including two of those newly added to the list: St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope.

Tekakwitha was born in the Iroquois village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville) in 1656.  (This was just a few years after three Jesuit missionaries from France—also on that list of U.S./N.Y. saints—were martyred nearby.)  Smallpox left her orphaned at the age of four, as well as severely scarred and almost blind.  (By many accounts, Tekakwitha translates, “she who bumps into things.”)  Having been adopted by a Mohawk uncle, she encountered Jesuit missionaries as a teenager and eagerly embraced Christianity.  Despite the objections of her uncle, she was baptized in 1676 and took the name Kateri (“Catherine”).  Harassed because of her newfound faith and her persistent desire to live as a virgin united only to Christ, Kateri moved north to a community of “praying Indians” outside of Montréal (now Kahnawake).   There she continued to grow in holiness before her 
                                                                                                               young death from fever in 1680.

Barbara Cope was born in Germany in 1838, but immigrated with her family to these shores as a very young child.  She grew up in Utica and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse in 1862, taking the name Marianne.  Having already successfully run two Catholic hospitals in central New York, when the call went out for sisters to care for the isolated leprosy patients on Molokai, Hawaii, she went simply to get the new mission started—but then decided to stay.  Remaining for more than 30 years, she proved herself a compassionate mother to both those suffering from leprosy and her fellow sisters.  Mother Marianne died in 1918 among the people she had so lovingly served.

Even in these very brief sketches of their lives, it’s fairly easy to see why these two women have been included in the Church’s canon of saints.  But why did I go all the way to Rome to see firsthand that they’d made the books?

Because these locals give me hope that I, too, might measure up and find myself on the list.

No—I have no pretensions of ever being formally canonized by the Pope in a solemn Vatican ceremony.  We New Yorkers, after all, are not generally celebrated for our outstanding holiness.  Yet with seven already in the official register, and knowing that these are but a select few out of the vast catalogue of those enjoying eternity in God’s presence, there is considerable hope that we—whether city slicker or country bumpkin, native-born or transplant, saintly now or still considering our options—might even eventually make the cut.

While saintliness may be officially recognized of those who’ve already made it to heaven, it’s a reality that’s first worked out right here on earth in responding to God’s call and cooperating with his grace.  For St. Kateri, that meant sticking with her faith when others were less than supportive—even outright hostile.  For St. Marianne, that meant going where she was most needed and standing up for those whom society would sooner abandon.  These two women may have lived in other times, when New York was a far different place, but the lessons we can draw from their lives are very much lessons for today.  That’s why they’re saints!  Whenever and wherever, their lives provide us with a dependable yardstick by which to measure our own.

May the example of these holy New Yorkers and their prayers from above inspire us each day to live as those the Lord can list as his own.

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